It's winter in Kyoto. Or it is supposed to be. January, 2018, has so far resembled late March weather. The news often announces that freezing days are heading our way. Not yet. True, up in the north of the country there has been tons of snow, literally. One JR train was stuck in the white stuff for 8 hours. Oh my; could I have withstood that? Must have been torture for some. But in Japan, the culture has developed ways to handle discomfort. Several years ago there was severe flooding in the northern part of Kyoto Prefecture. There was a famous news video viewed around the world showing passengers climbing up onto the roof of the bus to avoid getting wet, or drowning. The flood waters tried to push the vehicle, but someone found a rope inside, and tied the bus to a nearby tree. Would something smart like this occur in the West? In America? I doubt it. Someone would have pulled out his gun and begun shooting. 
If I have learned anything by living here, it is patience. Do not show your feelings openly, especially feelings of anger or hatred. Be calm and resigned. But be alert also. And as a Christian Scientist, be sure that there is a solution available, right at hand, ready to be employed.  Panic and fear kill. Trust and love save.  No exceptions. 
Another interesting discovery from living in Japan is to realize, after some time, that I've never been busier than when living here. NYC was an afternoon nap. There is much to do, and much to accomplish. The culture is rule-ridden, as i have mentioned before. These seemingly endless rules are what keep society more or less in peace. Obeying the rules brings safety; flouting or ignoring them ends in chaos and rejection. Foreigners have a larger margin of forgiveness. it is assumed they know nothing about Japanese society, so they can't help but make mistakes. It used to be that, when I owned a car, and a policeman would stop me for some infraction I had just committed, I would speak to him only in english. He would give up and tell me to be more careful.  But that excuse no longer works. I gave up the car and owned a middle-sized  motorbike, a 125cc Honda.  At first I could get away with lawbreaking. Eventually, this didn't work. 
I was caught making a right hand turn when the light had just become red. The motorcycle cop on the other corner watched me, and since the light was green for him, he crossed the intersection, caught up with me, and told me to drive ahead a little to the police station there. I did. He was friendly and I was cooperative. Interestingly enuf, the penalty was to be chosen by me from a short list. Paying a fine was the easiest. But I chose to do community work. I was assigned a day and a time to go to the police station in my neighborhood. I went. There, I and a few others got into a van and were driven quite some distance thru the city to an area I did not know. There, we got out to meet several other guilty souls standing around in a small children's park in front of a JR train station. The officers there  kindly told us to put on some safety banners and a reflective vest. I and one other gentleman were instructed to go sweep the predestrian tunnel that went beneath the railroad tracks and along side a street, which ran lower than our passageway. The tunnel was not long, perhaps 50 meters. It was wide and not dark. There were many walkers and bicycle riders during the one hour we had to sweep the sidewalk. I took one side and the other man took the other side. It was obvious that this was not his first time. He knew exactly what speed to sweep at, when to pause, and when to push the collected papers, cans, dust into a large plastic bag. He was a pro. Me, I got to the further, open end of the tunnel first, and could rest awhile looking at the garden in a small temple there. Eventually we finished our task and made our way back to the children's park. We were thanked for doing what we had been told to do, and handed back the safety garb. I had photos of myself taken by someone with my camera. We piled back into the van and returned to the police station where this adventuresome punishment had started. For me, it was a glimpse of Japanese culture and society that no foreigner otherwise would have. Paying the fine, ¥10,000, would be easy and chosen by everyone for sure. But I saw an opportunity to peek into the Japanese mind and life; a chance never to be missed. Most impressive was the kindness, even the apologetic mien of the policemen. Where else could this be experienced? And, when will we be able to experience this everywhere?


Walking with the ducks

Strolling along the Kamo River
Tho I have lived in Kyoto for over 40 years, and most of those decades were near the Kamo River, walking along the high banks never became boring nor without some adventure, small or big. The river does change over time; the water changes by the minute, the riverbed and banks more slowly, almost imperceptibly. Keen eyes and a fair memory will present the strolleer with newness on every encounter.
For this essay, I chose to extend my usual walks to include the distant north, and the southern end. Because the city and prefecture for elucidation reasons divide the river into sections encapsulated by bridges, so will I. This is convenient for writing and strolling understandingly. Along the way, I will touch on some history, inevitable in a city like Kyoto, and also present the first Guide to Kamo River Bicycle Ramps (KRBR), information so essential for the wise citizen who prefers biking to cars-busses-trains.
I walked on July 12th, 2013, from early in the cool morning until well roasted around 5:30. Recent days had been consistently in the very high 30s; the 12th was in the mid-30s, thankfully. I went up to the Misono Bridge. From here it is a 136-second walk to the Kamigamo Shrine, if you get a green light. This shrine is as old as the city, if not older. When Kyoto, then called Heian-kyo, became the new capital, around the 790s, one of the reasons for the move was water. The earlier imperial court locations, most notably in the Nara area, lacked sufficient ground water, whereas, the Kyoto valley had more than enough. The other main reason for the move was to escape the unhealthy, overpowering influence of the Buddhist temples.
The Kamo River, down stream, originally was roughly four times wider than it is today. The Takano River and the Katsura River along with the Kamo are only the largest of countless streams and brooks that flow into and thru the valley. Where I live, just north of the Shimogamo Shrine, the ground water level is so high, if you poke a chopstick into your garden, the tip will come up wet. Well, this is an exaggeration, a slight one. The local public bathing house and the Shrine itself both use the water which flows beneath them. Originally, at Ippon Matsu bus stop, there was a large public well. When Kyoto decided to offer city water, the well was filled in, alas. 

Just below the Shrine, Kamo meets Takano. The two rivers couldn't be more different. The feeling one gets walking along one is not the same sensation received from the other. While the Kamo is tame, having been so rendered by the city fathers, Takano still retains some of its original wildness. True, the banks of both rivers have been stoned up quite well. Flooding was always a major problem in the city. In a nearby restaurant, along the walls, are old, B&W photos of the last flood, probably a little after the war. Because of that one, the city banked up the sides of both rivers. Once, after a mighty typhoon, I saw the Kamo almost reach the top of its banks. Such strength of nature, such awesomeness. Brown, swift flowing, carrying detritus, trees, tires, unidentifiable objects to the Inland Sea beyond Osaka. Fascinating and frightening. 

The two rivers meet just above Imadegawa bridge. There is a concrete turtle bridge there, too. At low tide, so to speak, children, adults, dogs, all cross over or play on the turtles. Great fun.
From Imadegawa bridge, the river, now called merely the Kamo River, flows rather straight south to below Kyoto proper, to join the Uji and the Katsura rivers. In the meantime, Kamo hosts loads of birds, who feed on loads of small fish as well as pieces of bread people toss to them.
Between Imadegawa and the next bridge, the Enmachi, the river is calm, nearly unbroken by growing islands, so beautiful. Occasionally, the city will call out a herd of small plows to reduce the islands to below river level because they have gotten too big. Pity the frogs, river birds, fish and others who have made these islands their homes. Still, after a few years the islands will reappear and the cycle will roll on. 
So it goes, the Mighty Kamo river.